Imagine Erin Brockovich if she was more brash, less sexy, and instead of being pro health and corporate responsibility, she was anti animal rights. Sound like your cup of tea?
I don’t even drink tea and this still wasn’t my cuppa. But not because of how I’ve misleadingly described it. Janna Connelly (Jacqueline Toboni) is a military medic who’d rather be at war in Iraq (don’t quote me on that – it could have been any other recent skirmish) than at home on the ranch with her dad, Dell (Michael O’Neill). Even his heart attack isn’t much of an incentive but she reluctantly gives up being elbows-deep in the chest wounds of young men who didn’t sign up for this, and finds the family ranch in sad neglect. She and ranch hand Hudson (Tyler Jacob Moore) commit to fixing the place up but before they can make any changes, the town sheriff (Christopher McDonald) comes sniffing around with some vaguely qualified officials, based on an anonymous complaint about animal abuse.
Here’s the rub: some shady company has convinced the state senate to pass a bill (I’ve very likely gotten that process wrong, so just fill in the appropriate blanks or focus on the meat rather than the potatoes) that can confiscate a rancher’s entire herd on the word of a single vet’s assessment after an anonymous complaint. When that vet, that sheriff, and that company are in cahoots, it means a very cheap and easy way to come into many herds of cattle and strings of horses, which are quite lucrative on the resale. This company is not above manufacturing or planting evidence because they can hide behind the bill while the ranchers have little recourse, and the animals are gone by the time they can object in any case. It’s a tidy little scam that looks superficially legal and ruins a lot of innocent ranchers.
The movie is based on a real practice that does affect all kinds of American ranchers. Politicians are persuaded or duped into voting for a bill that sounds like a good thing – preventing animal abuse, but was always intended to provide legal cover for basically stealing someone’s valuable assets.
Unfortunately, director Brett Hedlund is no Steven Soderbergh. He struggles to make any of that sound interesting, making for a pretty slow and dry film, except for the parts where the script has overcompensated with cringy, unnecessary violence.
I suppose none of the actors are especially egregious but nor are they much good. The movie’s pretty bland and feels of a made-for-TV quality, and no, I don’t mean HBO. I mean Lifetime. But it does have the dubious honour of having premiered at the Black Hills Stock Show and been reviewed by Beef Monthly, for whatever that’s worth.